Emergency! EN systems alert employees when disaster strikes

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As it turns out, the technology is the easy part.

Having evacuated to a hotel in Pennsylvania in the face of Superstorm Sandy, Scott Thompson's problems had only begun.

As the director of security engineering and technical systems for Novartis, a global pharmaceutical firm, he had to send out mass notifications warning Novartis employees in the affected states that their offices were closed. But he could not get to his own office in New Jersey, and would've been helpless if he had.

"Our site's Internet providers were knocked off-line," he recalls.

Beguilements

With their numerous connectivity options, today's enterprise-level EN systems are chock-full of bells and whistles. And that's actually a problem, sources complain.

"I have seen many firms looking at products and saying, 'Wow, we need this!' rather than, 'What do we need?'" complains Philip Jan Rothstein, a business continuity consultant in Brookfield, Conn. and a Fellow of the Business Continuity Institute. "Look for core functionality first. What are you setting out to accomplish? What is your population? Do you have business users traveling worldwide? People 18 to 24 years old? People 80 to 95 years old? Dorm residents? Homeowners? Employees? Customers? Each has a different contact mechanism that will work best for them."

Generally, the committee will write alert messages in advance and will map out selected target audiences for those messages. But it is a mistake to rely entirely on canned messages, and the organization must be able to adapt to changing situations, such as the authorities deciding to ration gasoline, requiring special planning by anyone wanting to commute, Lemmon adds.

Before Sandy, for instance, "no one knew that they would only be able to get fuel on certain days afterwards," Lemmon notes.

Emergency only?

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